Jan 2019 - She Snores, He's a Rowdy Drinker; Downsides to Requiring Shared Hotel Rooms

Companies should seek alternatives to control travel costs. 

Here is a common scenario: To keep travel costs down, a company requires workers attending a conference to share hotel rooms.

This can raise all sorts of issues, from mere annoyance to harassment claims. 

Donald A. Jones, an equal employment investigator for federal agencies, says that if an employer has a conference budget, it should calculate how many workers can attend the event without sharing a room, and think about rotating employee conference attendance each year.

"When staff are traveling for business, it is important for them to be able to have downtime and space to unwind," Joseph DiNorcia, VP of Operations / CFO at Demos, wrote. "Having to share a room with another staff person would make it feel like they are working the entire time they are at the conference."

From a legal perspective, he noted, "you are opening your firm to potential liability in the event there is an incident between roommates. There are so many variables of what can go wrong with staff sharing rooms, that I don't believe the cost savings is worth the risk exposure."

Most employees now have extensive training on what constitutes harassment, DiNorcia pointed out. "By having employees share hotel rooms, you are exposing the company to potential liability for harassment claims. This is further complicated when you add the potential for an alcohol-related incident. You have one staff person return to their room intoxicated and get into a fight with the other staff person, or worse. Sexual abuse … is also a risk." 

Even renting an Airbnb accommodation where several employees would each have their own bedroom can raise issues, he said.

"It's unlike a hotel where―if staff have their own rooms―if an incident takes place in a common space, it may still be an awful thing to deal with, but the company didn't put the staff person at an increased risk as it did with renting an Airbnb."

SHRM noted that there are no laws prohibiting employers from requiring workers on business travel to share hotel rooms or rental homes. "However, doing so may cause employee relations issues that, in the long run, cost an employer more in lower employee morale, higher turnover, and decreased productivity than the savings realized," SHRM wrote. "Not being at home and putting in long days in unfamiliar territory may already stress employees. While a small number of employees may be comfortable sharing a room, a room-sharing policy could create ill will between co-workers."

These scenarios are potentials for conflict: 

  • A light sleeper bunked with a snorer.
  • Similarity or difference in sexual orientation.
  • An early-to-bed sleeper bunked with a night owl.
  • Differences in personal space zones.
  • Differences in bedtime and/or bathroom rituals.

Ideas for what an employer could do instead:

  • Same-day travel, when possible.
  • Renegotiation of the corporate rate with the hotel chain.
  • Use of a less-expensive hotel chain.
  • Reduction of travel costs in other areas, such as meal and alcohol per diems and transportation.
  • Virtual meetings

Source: Dana Wilkie (SHRM, January 11, 2019)

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